B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix appeared at the embattled Surrey Memorial Hospital to pledge that help is on the way to address the crisis of understaffing that has prompted doctors there to come forward with letters pleading for help.
Mr. Dix provided what he said were short-term, medium-term and long-term strategies to address the many complaints coming from physicians and other hospital workers at the facility.
Despite repeated questions for specifics, Mr. Dix did not provide numbers on how many extra staff may be provided or the timeline for when short-term fixes would be completed.
The announcement was welcomed by those who work at the hospital, though their positive responses included some caution.
Surrey Memorial Hospital obstetrician and gynecologist Claudine Storness-Bliss, called the announcement “a win” for her department, hospital and the population in Fraser Health Authority. However, the lack of details of the commitments guarded her optimism, she said.
“The fact that there’s an engagement out and commitment to providing emergency resources, I think is helpful. I think it’s going to help us now. At the end of the day, we should have addressed this five years ago, we should have had a redevelopment project five years ago, and we would not be in the situation at all,” she said in an interview.
Dr. Storness-Bliss said she’s heard some very positive commitments from the women’s health perspective, such as extra nursing resources, and commitment to access to the operating room.
She said as the concrete plan is expected to arrive in the fall, she, along with her colleagues, will be watching out to see significant improvement.
Mr. Dix’s announcement comes after weeks of increasingly urgent pleas from doctors at the hospital for more resources. Open letters have said the emergency room is overstretched and that obstetrics is suffering a “critical scarcity of resources.” Cardiologists have also complained.
“We implore you to take immediate action and if you cannot do this the only responsible recourse is to place the Surrey Memorial Hospital ER on diversion,” said a letter to Mr. Dix sent last month by the Medical Staff Association.
The letter criticized Fraser Health and the Ministry of Health for a lack of communication with the public about a “dire state of affairs” at Surrey Memorial in which patients have to wait for hours or even days to receive care, allowing the province to “hide” from its “culpability for the situation.”
Surrey is one of the fastest-growing cities in the country and the Fraser Health Authority overseeing it is the province’s largest. Other hospitals in the region have also complained of dire situations.
Mr. Dix said his government will expand the existing Surrey Memorial Hospital by improving and increasing capacity for more inpatient and outpatient care, though details will not be available until the fall.
Other immediate actions include addressing the problem of too few hospitalists – those doctors who see patients after they have been through the emergency department. Mr. Dix also pledged the province would establish a new contract with the hospitalists and would improve services in the emergency department by opening a triage unit.
In the medium term, the government pledged to increase the capacity of renal and cardiac services, as well as adding new MRI and CT machines. More maternity care staff will be added and there will be expanded infrastructure. There were few details on the targets for those increased services.
The B.C. Nurses’ Union welcomed the province’s announcement and urged the Fraser Health Authority to ensure the action plan is implemented as soon as possible.
“We will be following up with our members to monitor the extent to which these new measures are actually improving working conditions and providing the relief the emergency department needs in order to provide the level of care patients deserve,” the statement reads.
The union said nurses at the hospital have been calling for the government and Fraser Health to address the chronic congestion in the emergency department, the sharp increase of patient care needs, and a severe staff shortage that has left nurses, doctors and allied health care professionals burnt out and morally distressed.
Joshua Greggain, president of Doctors of BC – which represents more than 16,000 physicians, medical residents and medical students in the province – said even though health professionals didn’t get all the granular details, the announcement was a step in the right direction.
“I think the first most important thing is the acknowledgment of the trouble, and the fact that there was a listening opportunity, and I think that really helps people in the trenches to feel like their voices were heard,” he said.
He said the health care system “in general needs more resources, period.
“Shuffling chairs around is not going to be effective.”
B.C. United Opposition health critic Shirley Bond said Wednesday’s announcement is another one with vague promises and few details.
“I think British Columbians and the residents of Surrey will be very skeptical about this announcement today coming after months and months and months of concerns being expressed by health care professionals right across the province,” she said.
With a report from The Canadian Press